E! Ecstatic Over Panned 'Anna'

The Aug. 11 premiere of The Anna Nicole Smith Show, E! Entertainment Television's reality series, got off to a big start, notching record ratings for the network.

Despite scathing criticism before and after its debut, the show generated a 4.1 household rating, the highest in the network's history, E! president Mindy Herman said. It also tied FX's The Shield
as the second-best original series premiere in basic cable history, behind a 4.7 for USA Network's debut of The Dead Zone.

"We felt going in to the premiere that we were getting a lot of buzz, but when you do a 4.1 rating and a 5.5 in the major markets, it was beyond our expectations," Herman said.

"In cable homes in Los Angeles, we were the No. 1 show in broadcast or cable at 10 p.m. To do that in the entertainment capital of the world is pretty amazing."

The premiere also handily beat out the 2.8 rating for the debut of its reality-sitcom predecessor, MTV: Music Television's The Osbournes.

That show posted ratings gains on a week-to-week basis, something Herman believes
Anna Nicole
can also achieve as the viewers get to know more about Smith and her supporting cast.

"In the long run [success] will be based on whether we can tell a compelling story," Herman said. "We just scratched the surface of telling the story of probably one of the singularly unique women in the celebrity realm."

One thing going for the show is the buzz it has generated since its premiere. Herman said with the possible exception of Comedy Central's South Park, The Osbournes
and The Shield, no original cable show has received enough intense initial attention to match Anna Nicole.

But much of the attention was decidedly negative. The New York Times
called it and other reality series "freak shows" and lamented that Anna Nicole's tag line — "It's not supposed to be funny. It just is" — "practically begs us to think she's not playing dumb. But she is playing along, even if the joke is at her expense."

Lowlights of the premiere included Smith — unabashedly dressed in tight pants and a very low-cut blouse — shopping for a new house with her red-haired assistant and buttoned-down lawyer, often slurring her speech and making references to a currently chaste lifestyle.

Herman shrugged, and said viewers will decide the show's success or failure.

"It's a comedy show that's meant to have outrageous moments and will be a show that some people will love and some people will hate," Herman said.

Nevertheless, the show's initial success is bound to spur other reality show copycats. News Corp. — whose Fox broadcast network is home to Cops, America's Most Wanted
and American Idol
— has been contemplating a 24-hour, reality-based digital channel that could launch by 2005, according to sources.

Fox Cable Networks senior vice president of corporate communications Tom Tyrer said that although the reality network is one of several concepts being considered for future digital channels, "nothing is imminent."

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.